Mapesbury Road

8 framed colour photographs

In April 1968, the poet Paul Celan visited his paternal aunt Berta Antschel — one of the few members of his family who survived the Shoah — and stayed with her at her flat in Mapesbury Road, in Kilburn, north-west London. During this time, he also visited the Austrian poet Erich Fried whose house on the adjoining Dartmouth Road, where he lived with his wife, the photographer Catherine Fried, was a hub for the radical Left during the 1960s and 1970s, including Rudi Dutschke, Astrid Proll, Danny Cohn-Bendit, and Tariq Ali. The period was obviously marked by great political unrest, with Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis on 4 April, and the attempted assassination of Dutscke exactly a week later, the day after Celan had visited Fried. (Dutschke would stay with the Frieds later that autumn.)

It was then that Celan wrote ‘Mapesbury Road’, a short, dense poem which is marked not only by stillness but also — with its mention of ‘a lodged bullet’ — violence. The time is ‘magnolienstündige’, ‘magnolia-houred’ (in Michael Hamburger’s translation), a reference, perhaps, to the large, aged tree to be found in the garden almost directly opposite the Frieds’ home, and which Celan would have passed on his way between there and his aunt’s.

It is this tree which is the subject of these photographs, its milky petals darkening against thickening April storm clouds.